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$100 Startup Reading Circle: Part 1 – Unexpected Entrepreneurs

I’ve just returned from the first group meeting in the Ignite Reading Circle on the $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau.I’ve read the book through already once before soon after I got it last year after attending Chris’ World Domination Summit in Portland. I loved it. The idea of the micro-business is once that’s catching on like wildfire around the world. You see peoples eyes widen in amazement when they hear the stories about what some of these entrepreneurs are doing with small, sometimes accidental, bootstrapped business. Many of these ideas are just not thought possible before you see them in action for the first time.We had our big kick-off a couple weeks ago and now this is the first group meeting we’ve had to talk about what we’ve read. So far we’ve all read through the first section, Unexpected Entrepreneurs. This section talks about how you probably already have skills that you could make a small business around. Business is about giving people fish, not showing them every little detail about how it’s cooked (unless that’s your business model: teaching). Following your passion may be what you want to do but it’s not necessarily the right way to go. Location doesn’t matter when your business is online and some of the old categories for customers are going out the window in favour of a new model.That’s what the book was about. This post is more a recap to touch on big ideas that came up in our conversations. Talking about these ideas always park the best ideas or solidify others. These are probably a little random and may not have an obvious connection to one another, I just wanted to highlight for you guys some good ideas and resources that came up that you might want to check out.4- hour work week by Tim Ferriss – This came up quickly and rightly so. It’s a bible among some entrepreneurs and Location Independent folk. One of the highlights were the stories about how much you can actually outsource to a Virtual Assistant. They will do pretty much anything for you. This is not necessarily a good thing for your business but if you know how to use them well then it can take a lot of work off your shoulders.Stories – It’s all about the stories. Everyone is talking about stories these days and Chris talks about them right off the bat with his, err, story about the ranch that sells an experience of escaping the city and becoming  cowboy (cowgirl? cowperson?) instead of just the basic element of riding a horse. Yes you get to ride a horse but the underlying story, and the one that people are actually drawn to, is the idea of escaping from their life and entering into another for the week or weekend. A good tourism book about this ideas is the Experience Economy.  I likened this idea to McDonalds versus Starbucks. They both make coffee.  Starbucks has a much better story for me which why I go there more than McDonalds.Lots of short project-based experiments – This has been a big one for me lately, one that I’m focusing on with everything I do. We all learn so much from doing. Reading is good, learning is good but doing is the ultimate teacher. Experiments are great because they are a task that is designed from the outset to have a possible outcome. It doesn’t HAVE to work, it MIGHT work. If you are relying on your experiments to support you , you probably want to experiments with less risk but no matter how much risk you have they are very valuable learning tools. Everything you do is an experiment. Some are low risk and some are high risk. you learn more with bigger experiments. I say short and project based because experiments need an end date. Set a start date and end date for the project. By that date the experiment will have succeeded or failed. Done. Gone. Move on to the next one. There are a lot of things you can only learn by completing the project and not letting in drag into something that goes forever. Then it becomes a maintenance nightmare and you hate doing it. End date. Set it. And short because you learn so much from completing projects. Done. Shipped. Out the door. To the public. A 3 month project and a year long project both have one end date. If you learn the same amount from shipping a year long project and a 3 month project, why spend the extra 9 months working? If you just need 3 to see if it will work or not, just use three. If it will only require 1, just use one. Absolute minimum amount of time required.Pat Flynn at has a cool story about how he started his business with putting his LEED Certification study notes online. He noticed they were getting a lot of traffic and interest online. He made a product with the information and how to study for the LEED Certification exam and started to sell it to the people reading the notes on the blog. He’s still making good money off that site.Online learning is taking off. We talked about the Khan Academy and how it’s revolutionizing individual and group learning. I’ve taken a bunch of online courses this past year and it’s been awesome. Self-paced, interesting, good information, low-cost. That’s how education should be.Adjacent Possible.Getting that big, huge, crazy idea. Big, huge, crazy, out there ideas are often just the next step in someone’s path. They’ve gone from 0 to 100 in their level of knowledge about some area, industry, space, niche, whatever you want to call it. They know that space extremely well. You can only see a couple of numbers away when you are learning. If I’m at 10, I can only see to 11, 12 and maybe 13. I can’t see any farther than that because I don’t have the knowledge. Once I get to 11, I’ll be able to see a little further to 14. When you are at 100, 101 and maybe 102 will become visible as the next steps. That’s where the “crazy” starts to happen. But it’s not crazy when you are at 100. 101 is just the next step. To a person that is just at level 0 or 1 at their level of knowledge though, 101 is not even fathomable. This is where hard work comes in. You can’t go from 1 to 100 over night. You have to go through 2, 3, 4, 50, 60, and everything in between. Lots of short-project based experiments and mentors will make this learning faster but there is no other way to get from 0 to 100.Focus. Going from a knowledge level of 0 to 100 on something is hard enough. Trying to do it on 5 things at the same time is WAY harder. Becoming an expert in 5 different things at the same time is really really hard. Best to get to the level you want in one thing, and then take that experience to learning the next one. Trying to work 5 different paths at the same time takes much longer and since seeing progress is a huge motivator to learning more, we often stall on all the projects. Compare that with focusing on one area or one project and only that one. Since you are focusing all your time on that one, you make good progress on it, and it’s easy to see, you get a lot done and you’re shipping things regularly. That very obvious progress is a huge motivator to doing more. What’s more is that once you get to a level 40 or 50 of knowledge in something you begin to get perks because of your knowledge level. Companies and people start to notice that you know a lot or are very good at something. You get special treatment, free product or free access to things. And you can use this special treatment to advance your other areas of knowledge and skills faster. it’s al about working serially on projects and skills, one after another, than working on them in parallel or at the same time. This is a very subjective leveling scheme there, no idea what it means, it’s all relative!Idea Experiment Cycle – I think of a cycle that starts with an idea, leads to an experiment to test that idea which will succeed or fail. At the end of that you start again. Another idea (or hypothesis), another test and another result. This goes back to having fast project-based experiments. Learn faster because it’s a short cycle, stay interested because it doesn’t drag on forever and remember their just experiments and take the pressure off yourself to make it perfect and huge. Short and fast. Small experiments.That’s my idea explosion for the night. One of the “problems” with meeting with people to talk about good books in an area you’re interested in is that a million ideas come out of it. Blog posts are the best form of experiment though. They are short fast experiments to see if these ideas resonate with anyone. Maybe these could lead into books someday, or some online training. Experiment #1 done.Experiment on.